Representing Ethnographic Research as Drama

This month we published Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain why they chose to present their research as a play script.

Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama is an outcome of a large, team linguistic ethnographic research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG). As part of the research project we conducted ethnographic observations in an Advice and Advocacy service in a Chinese community centre in a city in the Midlands of England. We were interested in people’s communicative practices in a context where clients needed help to negotiate bureaucratic systems related to welfare benefits, health, education, insurance, immigration status, and so on.

Following comprehensive analysis of data, we produced a rich, detailed research report. However, we were not convinced that academic writing alone was adequate for the task of representation of social practice. Although we are thoroughly invested in the tradition of writing ethnography, we recognise a need to reach beyond its limitations. With this in mind, we chose to represent the life of the Advice and Advocacy service as Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama, which takes an arts-based approach to the representation of research outcomes.

In linguistic ethnography we typically observe, and ultimately explain, the lives of others. But we wanted to move beyond explanation of cultural life, which can be reductive. We chose to represent the social practices of the Chinese community centre as ethnographic drama because it is a form which by definition resists explanation. It was not our intention to explain or make meaningful the lives of Chinese or Chinese-heritage people in the UK. We were instead concerned with all aspects of communication.

The community centre proved to be a rich site at which to observe the communicative practices with which advice workers render the world more just for their clients. We peered into the hidden spaces where, day after day, mediation, translation, and interpretation enable those with limited capital to gain access to resources which are otherwise elusive, and often out of reach. Through ethnographic drama we did not attempt to explain these cultural practices, but we made them visible.

Ethnographic drama enables us to show the complexities of interactions in which Advice and Advocacy workers are essential figures who keep the city moving. Beyond making social space more habitable, they have the potential to make life better for those who come to them for help. In our observation of the advisors’ practice, more than anything we see people concerned to improve the lives of their clients. In the nooks and crannies of social life they keep the superdiverse city moving. In showing the world rather than telling it, ethnographic drama offers a representation of social life that has the potential to enhance, heighten, and expand understanding, and to bring ethnography to wider audiences.

We are very grateful to Mutlilingual Matters for their generosity and vision in enabling us to take off creatively, turning field notes, transcripts, and other ethnographic material into drama that shows communicative practice in an often-concealed part of social life in the superdiverse city.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous book, Voices of a City Market

How Can We Represent Social Life in Ethnographic Writing?

This month we published Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain how they put the book together.

Which differences are salient to people when they interact in contexts of social and linguistic diversity? How are these differences made resourceful in communication as people draw on their biographies, histories, education, language backgrounds, and economic capital? We examined these questions by conducting ethnographic observations in the Bull Ring market in Birmingham, as part of a four-year AHRC-funded research project, ‘Translation and Translanguaging. Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities’.

In the market we observed interactions between butchers and their customers as they haggled, bartered, argued, and joked. We wrote field notes, audio-recorded service interactions, interviewed market traders, took photographs, video-recorded, and collected messages on WeChat and WhatsApp. Communication in the market was characterized by translanguaging, an orientation to difference in which people were willing to make use of whatever resources were available to make themselves understood. Not that everything in the market hall was convivial – everyday sexism and casual racism also raised their heads.

The material we collected was carefully analysed. Transcripts and translations were pored over and annotated, audio-recordings listened to, video-recordings repeatedly watched, online and digital messages scrutinized, photographs examined, discussions held. Reports were authored, academic articles published. However, content is only half of the story. We were concerned that conventional academic writing may not adequately represent the complexity and richness of the discourse of the superdiverse market. So we stripped away analysis, explanation, and exegesis, leaving the voices of traders, shoppers, and researchers to speak for themselves. Rather than structure the ethnography around big ideas and grand theories, we represented the world of the market as an assemblage of ethnographic material, a polyphonic collage of everyday voices and social practices.

In the book the life of the market is framed by a discussion in which a cast of nine characters debates the representation of social life. Two butchers, a photographer, a professor, a dramaturg, an entrepreneur, a researcher, a documentary novelist, and a poet rehearse many of the debates that surfaced in our research team over more than four years. Referring to the artistic production of the world of the market, their voices are thoughtful, opinionated, generous, biased, indignant, and collaborative. The same characters return at the end of the book to reflect on the text.

The assemblage of ethnographic material creates a polyphony of beliefs, commitments, and ideologies. The form of the text, at once poetic and scientific, represents the fragmented yet orderly cacophony of the market. Artistic form, argues Bakhtin (1984: 43), does not shape already prepared and found content, “but rather permits content to be found and seen for the first time”. In the terms of photographer Dorothea Lange (1965), calling attention to the mundane, the everyday, the familiar, enables people to see, as if for the first time, what they have passed by a thousand times. We hope to achieve something of this sort in Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Edited and translated by C. Emerson). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lange, D. (1965) Under the Trees. KQED for National Educational Television (NET).

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

Summer Reads

The sun has finally come to Bristol and we’ve already published an array of exciting new books this summer, with plenty still to come! Here’s a round up of all the new titles for your summer reading list…

June

Decolonising Multilingualism

In this groundbreaking text, Alison Phipps pulls together ethical approaches to researching multilingually in contexts of pain, conflict and crisis; the position of the researcher; and the question of multilingualism and anglonormativity. It is both global and local in scale, ranging from Scotland to Ghana, Aotearoa / New Zealand to Sudan.

The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages

This book presents the first comprehensive overview of national laws recognising sign languages, their impacts and the advocacy campaigns which led to their creation. Each chapter is grounded in a collaborative writing approach between deaf and hearing scholars and activists involved in legislative campaigns.

 

Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency

This volume examines the agency of second/foreign language teachers in diverse geographical contexts. It offers new understandings and conceptualizations through a variety of types of empirical data. It also demonstrates the use of different methodologies to analyze the multidimensional, dynamic and complex nature of language teacher agency.

Mandarin Chinese Dual Language Immersion Programs

This book discusses multiple aspects of Chinese dual language immersion programs, focusing on the Utah model. Themes include how to build a supportive classroom, the views of those involved, teacher identities, strategy use, corrective feedback, Chinese-character teaching, and the translanguaging phenomenon.

 

Critical Perspectives on Global Englishes in Asia

This book addresses the incorporation of Global Englishes into language policy and curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices, and focuses on a wide range of geographical and language contexts. It will be of interest to policymakers, curriculum developers and practitioner-researchers in the area of English language education.

 

July

The Action-oriented Approach

This book presents the background to the current shift in language education towards action-oriented teaching and provides a theorization of the Action-oriented Approach (AoA). It contains a research-informed description of the AoA and explains its implications for curriculum planning, teaching, assessment and pedagogy.

Grammatical Profiles

This collection brings together language profiles of the Language Assessment Remediation and Screening Procedure (LARSP) from 12 languages around the world. It will be an invaluable resource for speech-language pathologists in many countries and for those wishing to analyse the grammatical abilities of clients of many linguistic backgrounds.

Using Film and Media in the Language Classroom

This book demonstrates the advantages and impact of using film and audiovisual material in the language classroom. The chapters are evidence-based and address different levels and contexts of learning around the world. It will be of interest to practising teachers as well as those on teacher training courses.

 

Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System

This volume sheds empirical light on Complex Dynamic Systems Theory by providing analyses of two longitudinal, interactional datasets. The individual analyses traverse the domains of morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse. As a whole, the collection demonstrates the impact of the ecosystem on individuals’ use of language.

Objects, Bodies and Work Practice

In this volume, contributors focus on how professionals organize their embodied conduct with material objects. The book concentrates specifically on connections between ongoing courses of interaction within work practices, object materiality and mobility in space, bodily movement and manipulation of objects, and language.

 

August

Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice

This book provides an accessible guide to multilingual teaching in diverse classrooms world-wide. It is grounded in the latest research and takes a realistic approach to the challenges found in the modern school. The author argues that multilingual teaching is an option for all teachers, and that it has benefits for every child in the classroom.

Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching

The volume unites research and practice on integrating language learning, teaching and assessment at pre- and early school age. It provides useful case study insights for policymakers, teacher educators and researchers, and practical ideas for practitioners who wish to implement greater integration of assessment and learning in their own contexts.

Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality

This book unites studies on second language acquisition and interculturality in a study abroad context, providing timely perspectives on research in each area while also exploring the interface between them. Chapters highlight innovative themes such as social networks, input matters, learner identities and study abroad in lingua franca contexts.

Voices of a City Market

This book breaks new ground in its representation of the voices of people in a superdiverse city. Poetic and compelling, it places the reader at the heart of the market, surrounded by the voices of people from all over the world. Based on four years of ethnographic research, it is a book that reimagines the conventions of ethnographic writing.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.